Tuckerton Hears From Taxpayers, Supporters of Police Corp. Justin Cherry

By PAT JOHNSON | Aug 07, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson No Access: The beach at the end of Little Egg Harbor Boulevard in Tuckerton Beach is now closed to boaters, kayakers and pedestrians because of rocks.

Tuckerton — Taxpayers and supporters of Tuckerton Police Officer Justin Cherry filled both sides of the aisle in the new borough town hall on Monday, Aug. 5. A short business agenda was expanded to include numerous comments on tax increases due to the 2018 town-wide revaluation and a plea for the borough to return Cherry to active duty.

The majority of property owners in the borough received tax bills this week, prompting a slew of complaints from residents from Tuckerton Beach. The municipal budget of  $5,071,550 was introduced and passed in April with a minimum of public input at the public hearing, but some homeowners were startled when they received their entire tax bill that included two school districts and county tax increases plus the borough’s 3.8-cent increase.

The total amount to be raised to support the borough’s expenses is $3,054,665. For an average size home worth $214,195, the increase for municipal purposes only was $70.56.

Residents who spoke at the Monday night meeting seemed to have been blindsided by the overall increase to their taxes – some said as much as 40 percent.

Even though Mayor Sue Marshall, Councilman Ron Peterson and Administrator Jenny Gleghorn explained that, by law, the borough has no say over tax assessments, some residents of the beach area expressed doubts that they were getting a fair shake. One person who spoke even suggested the council members were getting a break on their own assessments.

Since Tuckerton went through an entire revaluation in 2018, residents unhappy with their tax bill cannot appeal this year’s taxes.

Appraisal Systems Inc. of Toms River did Tuckerton’s revaluation from May to August in 2018, and notices were sent to property owners with the new assessments. Public meetings and private appointments with the tax assessor were offered at borough hall for those disputing their assessment. Those who did not follow through must wait another year if they want to appeal their taxes.

There was also a general misunderstanding of how the tax rate is generated. The tax rate takes into account the borough’s net worth and the municipal budget. Individual properties are assessed by recent real estate sales: In other words, if comparable houses are selling above or below a person’s property, they can expect to see their assessed value go up or down. This is apparent when people go to appeal their taxes at the county level; they must find recent sales of comparable value to prove or disprove their home’s assessed worth.

Other considerations that go into assessing the worth of a home are outside dimensions, including accessory buildings and interior amenities: the number of bathrooms, fireplaces, interior wall construction, type of heat, whether there is central air conditioning, and percentage of finished attic or basement areas.

If a homeowner did not allow access to the home during the process, the interiors are assessed at the highest rate for comparable-size homes. This was explained in the letters that went out last year.

Those who did not appeal their assessment back in February or March this year cannot go to the county for a tax appeal until next year. Appeals are heard in a window between Feb. 1 and April 1, except the date is extended to May 1 when a revaluation is done.

Information on the revaluation process is available at tax.co.ocean.nj.us.

But for those who were outraged at their property increase, the mayor and council seemed the only available target to express it.

“My taxes have gone up 38 percent, and theirs (members of the council) have all gone down to the same extent,” claimed Ann Marie Sweeney of Tuckerton Beach.

John Zabricki of South Green Street said he couldn’t understand how a property the same size with the same type of house could be assessed differently, and unless things changed, “there is going to be such a fire sale in the Beach!”

A resident of Heron Road said that in the last four years, her taxes had gone up $2,698, $700 this last year alone. She asked why her taxes hadn’t gone down. “There are 60 new or greatly improved houses going up in the neighborhood; we thought our taxes should be going down.”

Gleghorn said possibly some of the houses did not have their certificates of occupancy at the time of the revaluation and so did not contribute to the town’s valuation. In the future the tax rate could come down when those houses are in the tax rolls, she explained.

Another resident of Heron stated that in 2012, her home was substantially damaged (Superstorm Sandy) and was rebuilt in 2016 and was assessed for $265,000; she paid $6,400 in taxes. This year she will pay $8,800. “I did appeal (the tax revaluation), and it only came down $1,600.”

In a related matter, the borough accepted the resignation of Tax Assessor Ed Seeger, but only so he could be rehired the same night in an expanded capacity. Tuckerton will be sharing Seeger with Lacey Township, and Lacey will be paying Seeger’s benefits and the bulk of his salary. Seeger will receive an additional $10,000 from Tuckerton to bring his salary to $35,000 annually, but he will be available to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays rather than the two hours he was available in his office previously.

Also, Seeger was available after the meeting to talk to taxpayers.

Tuckerton Police Officer Cherry

Attends Meeting with Supporters

The borough called for an executive session to discuss pending litigation stemming from “police personnel matters” without naming Corp. Justin Cherry, but Cherry was there with his family and supporters. During the public comment period, Cherry stated he had been a decorated member of the police force from 2005 until January 2014, when he was suspended without pay due to an incident with his K-9 officer of which he was recently exonerated in Superior Court.

In the time he was on suspension, he lost his home; his wife declared bankruptcy and he had to move his family to Beachwood to live with relatives. He received the medal of valor and K-9 service award while active on the force. “From 2005 to 2014, I served and protected the residents of Tuckerton with pride and honor. … I was not a problem officer,” he said.

“You will shortly be discussing the administrative charges, and I hope you read all the facts, testimony and findings of the judge when she acquitted me in June. In my opinion, you and the town were misled about my case by former Police Chief Michael Caputo. I love this town; hopefully, I’ll be able to work with you in the future.”

Colette Ferraren of Toms River said she had worked for two prosecutors and five attorney generals and knew Cherry for 13 years. “He is absolutely in love with being a police officer; it’s his passion. The real measure of a man is how he conducts himself when his life has been rocked. He never stopped believing in the justice process and never spoke any ill words.” Ferraren said Cherry was controlled under pressure and never allowed the disruption in his life to affect the routine of his children. She asked that he be reinstated.

Kevin Lyons of Manahawkin, a former member of the Long Beach Township PBA and member of the Southern Regional Board of Education, also spoke on Cherry’s behalf. He said he had witnessed other cases of officer suspensions, and nothing Cherry did rose to the same level.

“I know the borough is in a difficult position. You are stuck with back pay (estimated at $400,000 by Cherry’s wife) and the financial burden. But you can’t let that sway you. His life has been destroyed by an over-zealous (former Ocean County) prosecutor who couldn’t make his case. The money thing can be worked out; please listen to common sense and do the right thing and reinstate Justin.”

The borough took no action that night concerning Cherry’s status.

Tuckerton Beach residents also brought up a discussion on the price of the new ladder truck the borough is purchasing for the Tuckerton Volunteer Fire Co. The Pierce fire truck (combined pumper and ladder) is currently being built in Wisconsin for the town at a cost of $900,000 with the rest of a $1 million bond going to refurbish an existing 1993 pumper truck.

Carolyn Keen of Tuckerton Beach asked why the borough didn’t have a referendum on whether to purchase the truck. “Why can’t the taxpayers weigh in on large expenditures?”

Gleghorn said New Jersey laws relating to bonding (basically municipal loans sold as bonds to investors) require publishing the bond ordinance in the town’s newspaper of record (the Asbury Park Press), but the ordinance is also on the municipal agenda twice – once when introduced and again for a public hearing. Gleghorn said the information is also posted on the E-code portion of the tuckertonborough.com website.

Mayor Marshall replied to the question by saying, “The fire company has been working for years to purchase a new fire truck and were just about ready to purchase when (Superstorm) Sandy hit. It has been postponed over and over again. The truck allows the firemen to get up and down the streets in Tuckerton Beach and also protect the raised homes.

“This was the time to buy. We did our due diligence; we put all the information in the paper for you to read. You had all kinds of information published in The SandPaper.”

Edward Adams, Keen’s husband, said he was a first responder to the 9/11 tragedies and understood the fire responders deserve the truck but doubted whether the town’s budget could support it. “I get what the Revolutionary War was about … this is taxation without representation.”

Assistant Fire Chief Lee Eggert responded to Adams’ comments and also to comments he said were being posted on the Tuckerton Beach Residents for Dredging members-only webpage.

“To comments made about my business (Lee’s Emergency Equipment), yes, my business does fix fire trucks, but to insinuate that I am mixing my business with the fire company is an out and out lie,” he said.

Eggert also said that he had painted his son, Chief Dale Eggert’s new truck free of charge and has done electrical repairs to some fire vehicles free of charge and also used to paint all the police cars free of charge. “My family dumps thousands of dollars into the fire company because we want to – that’s what we do. I also have five people working at my shop who are members of the fire company and are available to answer daytime calls while I pay them,” he said.

Eggert asked the members of public to sign up if they wanted to attend a special meeting held at the firehouse, Sunday, August 11 at 5 p.m. in which the fire company’s auditor will present all the financial documents of the fire company. He also sent by email the latest budgets to those who requested it. By law, the borough is allowed to contribute up to $70,000 to volunteer fire companies; the nonprofit fire company also can raise money by holding bucket drops on Route 9 by permission on a few days of the year.

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

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